The first Pride wasn’t a parade, it was a riot. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular bar in Greenwich Village for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers. At the time, New York refused to grant licenses to gay bars. Police entered and arrested 13 people.
A spontaneous protest broke out and turned into a riot. While many popular accounts say Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans activist, threw the first brick at police, Johnson said she didn’t arrive at the bar until after the riot began. Regardless, her role in Stonewall and the fight for gay rights and equality can’t be understated, and she is an oft-unsung Pride hero.
Pride In 2020
This year, Pride feels different, and many activists have encouraged the LBGTQ+ community to remember where marriage equality and other victories in the U.S. originated. Juneteeth also falls during Pride month, an important anniversary. On June 19th, 1875, enslaved African Americans in Texas were told they had been emancipated, and were free.
While Pride events and observances are still happening in the U.S., they overlapped Juneteeth celebrations as well as Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality marches. Around the country, LGBTQ, Black and BIPOC Americans are coming together to demand a more equitable country and government.
As a way to honor the black, trans activists who created Pride month and fought at Stonewall for equality, we’re listing five important people you should know and learn more about. Then, we’ll list five ways you can continue to support LGBTQ+ and BIPOC this Pride.
Five Activists To Know
- Marsha P. Johnson - Marsha P. Johnson was a self-identified drag queen and a prominent gay activist. Born in New Jersey, she was active and impactful in New York City’s gay art scene from the 60’s to the 90’s.
- James Baldwin - James Baldwin was a writer and social justice advocate. The author of “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and “Notes of a Native Son,” Baldwin was born in New York in 1924 and was openly gay during a turbulent and often-violent time for gay and Black men.
- Audre Lorde - Audre Lord was an openly lesbian poet and mother born in New York in 1934. She dedicated her life and much of her writing to fighting and addressing sexism, homophobia, racism and classism.
- Gladys Bentley - According to her obituary in the New York Times, Gladys Bentley was "Harlem's most famous lesbian" and "among the best-known black entertainers." She was born in 1907 and often gave a strong “double entendre” to lyrics in the songs she would perform.
- Bayard Rustin - Bayard Rustin was an openly gay man often overlooked in historical accounts of the civil rights movement because of his sexuality, but he was a close advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and promoted nonviolent protest and equality. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Five Ways To Honor Their Work
- Participate in the Black Lives Matter movement - Every movement needs people from all walks of life and with every skill set. You can go to protests, or hand out water and snacks to those marching. You can write letters to the editor of your local paper or make donations to BLM-approved organizations. There are so many ways to get involved, and each one is equally needed.
- Watch Black, LGBTQ film - Out.com recently published a list of 21 Black, queer movies to watch, but there are dozens of lists online. Find a movie to watch with friends, family or just yourself.
- Talk to friends and family - It can be incredibly uncomfortable, but conversations with friends and family members about privilege, racism and homophobia can make a difference. You may be able to influence their opinions or encourage them to educate themselves on important issues.
- Read as much as you can - If watching film isn’t for you, there are so many books, articles and texts by Black and queer writers you can read to educate yourself. Here’s a list of important queer literature from Bookriot, which centers several Black voices.
- Support Black and queer workplace colleagues - In 2018, 31% of Black people in the US attained a university degree or higher, compared to just 16% in 1992. If your workplace doesn’t have a diversity and inclusion task force, create one. Create mentorship opportunities for BIPOC colleagues and encourage difficult conversations that make your workplace more equitable.
This year, Pride is more inclusive than ever, and for good reason. Systemic inequality disproportionately affects Black and brown people, and the numbers are even more stark for Black queer people. Did you know the average life expectancy of a Black trans woman in the U.S. is just 35? That’s at least partially because Black trans women are murdered at alarming rates.
It isn’t easy or comfortable to think about, but facing the hard truth is a good place to start in becoming a better ally. This June, there’s never been a better time to celebrate being Black, or queer, or both, and it’s on each of us to discover how we can support people in those demographics. Happy Pride, and don’t forget to continue educating yourself!